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AMANDA SMITH and JAMES SMITH v. I-FLOW CORP

November 29, 2010

AMANDA SMITH AND JAMES SMITH, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
I-FLOW CORP., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Amanda Smith and James Smith have sued I-Flow Corporation. (They originally sued Hospira, Inc. and Abbott Laboratories as well but recently dropped them as defendants). They allege that Mrs. Smith suffered personal injuries to the cartilage in her left shoulder joint as a result of using a pain pump that injected the anesthetic drug Marcaine into that joint. I-Flow manufactured and distributed the pain pump. The Smiths allege that it was unreasonably dangerous.

I-Flow has moved to strike the Smiths' request for punitive damages. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies I-Flow's motion.

Background

This suit concerns injuries that Amanda Smith sustained allegedly from her use of a PainBuster pain pump, which I-Flow designed, manufactured, marketed and distributed. The Smiths reside in Michigan. I-Flow is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Lake Forest, California.

On January 20, 2006, Mrs. Smith underwent arthroscopic surgery to her left shoulder at a hospital in Michigan. During the surgery, her doctor affixed a PainBuster pain pump to her shoulder. The pain pump continuously injected her with the anesthetic Marcaine through a catheter.

Mrs. Smith eventually suffered serious and permanent cartilage damage. Specifically, she now suffers from an irreversible condition called chondrolysis, the complete or nearly complete loss of cartilage in the shoulder joint. The Smiths allege that this was the result of the pain pump's continuous injections of Marcaine into her shoulder joint. They seek both compensatory and punitive damages.

In support of their request for punitive damages, the Smiths allege that manufacturers of pain pumps, including I-Flow, manufactured and distributed them and marketed them as safe without doing anything to determine their safety and without disclosing that no testing had been done to ascertain their safety for use in the shoulder joint. The Smiths allege that the Food and Drug Administration considered and rejected pain pumps for use in the shoulder joint space due to the absence of studies but that manufacturers promoted them for that use nonetheless. Starting in 2004, the Smiths allege, scholarly studies were published indicating the pain pumps could have deleterious effects on shoulder cartilage, including causing chondroylsis. Despite this, they allege, pain pump manufacturers, including I-Flow, continued to sell and market them for use in the shoulder joint.

In July 2010, the Smiths sought leave to file a second amended complaint that included additional and more detailed allegations supporting their request for punitive damages. The Court denied their motion largely because it considered the additions unnecessary.

I-Flow advances two arguments in support of its motion to strike the Smiths' punitive damages claim. First, it argues that Michigan law, which bars punitive damages, governs whether they are recoverable in this case. Second, I-Flow argues that the Smiths have not satisfied the pleading requirements imposed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8.

Discussion

1. Availability of punitive damages

The Smiths argue that California law governs the availability of punitive damages. California law permits punitive damages in product liability cases, including actions based on strict liability in tort. See Hasson v. Ford Motor Co., 32 Cal. 3d 388, 185 Cal. Rptr. 654 (1982).

I-Flow contends that Michigan law governs the availability of punitive damages. In Michigan, "punitive damages may not be imposed," subject to specific statutory exceptions, none of which the Smiths claim apply in this case. See McAuley v. General Motors ...


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